Love comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes in the form of homemade lasagna delivered to your door by a thoughtful neighbor. When the pandemic hit, budgets tightened and food sources were scarce for many struggling families. The need was so great that many local food pantries couldn’t keep up with demand. That’s when chef Rhiannon Menn decided to take action and create Lasagna Love, a platform to connect those in need of food with those who could provide it, in this case a variety of lasagnas made to order. Now in its second year, Lasagna Love has spread throughout the country, and even into Canada and Australia.
In Orange County, Jen Peterson has taken up this task as well. When asked why she opted to join Lasagna Love, Petersen said, “Well, I actually love to make lasagna. I saw something about Lasagna Love on Facebook and looked into it and decided to join. That was in November 2020.”
Petersen added, “I love what Lasagna Love stands for... we feed families, spread kindness and strengthen communities. Our mission is not only to help address the incredible rise in food insecurity among families, but also to provide a simple act of love and kindness during a time full of uncertainty and stress.”
Petersen manages 13 active chefs in the Orange County area, as well as many who have temporarily paused their lasagna-making efforts, but will return in the future. She also manages chefs in Dutchess, Sullivan and Ulster counties. Petersen estimates that her crew of chefs provides about 150 lasagnas to local families per year; Orange County usually has anywhere from four to 10 requests each month.
To become a volunteer chef, you have to be willing to make a lasagna from scratch (no premade, store-bought lasagnas), and deliver it to the person or family requesting the lasagna.
“Personally, I make a meat and cheese lasagna, but we have chefs who cater to those with allergies — vegetarian, gluten free, etc.” Petersen added. “Also, chefs can provide meals other than lasagna; if they have something they really like to make and the recipient is in agreement, our chefs can provide any sort of meal as long as it’s homemade.”
Prospective chefs just have to watch a video about food safety, confirm that they watched the video, and then get ready to be connected to fellow community members.
Once a week the Lasagna Love website matches volunteers with “requesters” based on food preferences (e.g. gluten-free, vegetarian), location and availability. Petersen pointed out that Lasagna Love is a “no judgement” organization, meaning anyone can request a lasagna; no one is turned away. “Every request is treated with respect.”
And that notion can be hard for requesters to grapple with. One lasagna lover who went by Marilyn B described her experience in a testimonial, “My story starts with my family and I needing a little boost during this crazy season in our lives. A friend told me about your service, but it took me a while to think that I was deserving of such a wonderful gift. Once I requested my first lasagna your volunteers made me feel special. I knew that this was a wonderful service. I hope one day that I will be able to deliver a lasagna to another family like mine. With Lasagna Love.”
Another testimonial by Kelly S. said, “Our family expanded with twin boys in June of 2021. The strain of taking care of two newborns and their 3-year-old brother was overwhelming to say the least. Having such a wonderful meal delivered was a welcome relief for my husband and I. Sometimes a little spot of kindness and warmth is all you need to push through that week and it certainly helped brighten our day.”
“I’ve seen reasons that run the gamut; everything from families who have taken in additional family members to pregnant women craving dairy,” Petersen said of the requests she’s receive. However, she noted that recently, the main reason for a lasagna request has been food insecurity due to the rising costs of everything from pasta to gas.
The chefs who make these meals understand the pressures of family life. Petersen recalled one request from a single mom who needed a meal for her son’s birthday. “The ‘lasagna mama’ who provided the lasagna not only brought the meal but also brought balloons and a small cake. That is absolutely not expected; the only thing chefs sign up for is to provide a meal but that lasagna mama felt a kinship with the recipient and decided to go above and beyond.”
She added a bit of a call to action for anyone interested in this endeavor. “We are always looking for more chefs in all of the counties I oversee. Each chef chooses how frequently they’d like to cook and how far they’d like to travel; some sign up to provide a meal just once and others sign up to provide meals weekly. Chefs can ‘pause’ themselves as needed and determine when they’d like to be available again... I will be happy to answer any questions readers may have; my email address [email@example.com] is the best way to reach me.”
Since its inception in March 2020, Lasagna Love has delivered 200,000 meals to 850,000 individuals with the help of 30,000 active volunteers. To volunteer or request a lasagna, visit lasagnalove.org.